Today's D Brief: More troops to leave Iraq; Army chief rebuts Trump; India, China exchange border fire; New ICBM moves ahead; And a bit more.
The U.S. will send about 2,200 troops home from Iraq by the end of the month, CENTCOM Commander and Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie announced today from Baghdad — after a senior White House official previewed the news to reporters aboard Air Force One Tuesday evening, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.
President Donald Trump is expected to make the formal announcement from Iraq on Wednesday. “That announcement will be followed by another one in the coming days on a further reduction in U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” Reuters reports.
Why this matters: It would be the first big reduction of U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East since the ISIS war started more than six years ago.
McKenzie: “In recognition of the great progress the Iraqi forces have made and in consultation and coordination with the government of Iraq and our coalition partners, the United States has decided to reduce our troop presence in Iraq from about 5,200 to 3,000 troops during the month of September,” the CENTCOM commander said according to an excerpt of his remarks provided to reporters.
“The U.S. decision is a clear demonstration of our continued commitment to the ultimate goal, which is an Iraqi security force that is capable of preventing an ISIS resurgence and of securing Iraq’s sovereignty without external assistance,” McKenzie added.
Let’s not forget: There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So the group is certainly not finished, and any “mission accomplished” moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East.
Also: The U.S. military says 21 additional civilians were killed in airstrikes targeting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to CENTCOM's latest June and July civilian casualty reports, which were both released Tuesday evening.
This raises CENTCOM’s admitted CIVCAS number to 1,398 since 2014. If that sounds a bit conservative for a six-year-long air campaign, the monitoring group Airwars estimates the total number of civilians killed in U.S.-military-linked operations to be somewhere between 8,000 and 13,000. Read more from Airwars, here.
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Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in the year 9 CE, an alliance of Germanic tribes ambushed three Roman legions traveling in the rain through the storied Teutoburg Forest, which today sits in the German state of Lower Saxony. The skulls of Roman soldiers — thousands of whom are believed to have been killed in the battle — were allegedly spotted on pikes in the forest more than 100 years later, reminding locals of the massacre. This disastrous episode, which involved a key defector from the Roman side (Arminius), effectively marked the end of Roman military expansionism across the Rhine River and into Germanic territories.
Army chief of staff recalibrates Trump's remarks about defense companies and U.S. wars. Gen. James McConville had been asked about Trump’s assertion, made to White House reporters on Monday, that “the top people in the Pentagon” don’t like him “because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
“I can assure the American people that the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it’s required for national security and a last resort,” McConville said during a Tuesday interview with Defense One. “We take this very, very seriously how we make our recommendations.”
McConville was careful to say that he was not responding to the president’s words. He added, “When I take a look at the senior leaders in the United States military, many of these leaders have sons and daughters that served in the military.” Read more about that, here.
He also highlighted ways the Army needs to change in the interview, the first of Defense One’s State of Defense event series this month. (Register to watch the rest live, here.) “I think any type of racism or extremism in the U.S. Army needs to be totally eliminated,” he said.
"Racism and extremism — we just cannot have that in the United States Army,” McConville answered. “There’s just no room for that. It breaks down cohesion in our Army. Any type of extremism, any type of racism, any type of people that aren't willing to treat their fellow soldiers with dignity and respect and not willing to take care of each other cannot serve in our Army.” Read, here, or watch the video here.
ICYMI: a draft DHS memo calls white supremacists the top domestic threat. Politico reported last week that “all three drafts” of the Department of Homeland Security memo “describe the threat from white supremacists as the deadliest domestic terror threat facing the U.S., listed above the immediate danger from foreign terrorist groups.” Read, here.
For now the second time, Afghanistan’s vice president escaped a suicide attack, Tolo News reports from Kabul. At least ten people were killed and 15 others were wounded, Reuters reports from Kabul. The Taliban say they had nothing to do with it.
Peace talks update:
- U.S. Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with Taliban delegates in Qatar, Afghanistan’s Pajwok News reports.
- And the Taliban still have imprisoned fighters that they want released, Tolo reports separately.
The Indian and Chinese militaries accused each other of firing warning shots along a disputed border in the Himalayas, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. “The gunfire occurred as both sides prepared to hold their positions through the harsh Himalayan winter, which begins in the next few weeks and usually sends military activity into a monthslong deep freeze. Sky-high tensions are likely to make this year different.”
Back stateside: $13 billion-plus to Northrop for a new ICBM. The Pentagon on Tuesday announced that it awarded a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to develop a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile — a weapon for what the U.S. military calls its Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, and critics call America’s “nuclear sponge” — to replace the Minuteman 3 missile, which has been in operation for the past 50 years.
The contract is “a big step in a project that is estimated to eventually cost at least $85 billion,” AP’s Bob Burns reported Tuesday on the deal, which “covers eight years of work to be performed in Utah and several other states, including Alabama, Nebraska, Colorado, California, Arizona and Maryland.”
Bigger picture: “The new intercontinental ballistic missile is envisioned as just one part of a complete replacement of the nuclear force, including a new fleet of Navy ballistic missile submarines, a new nuclear-capable Air Force bomber, a new air-launched nuclear cruise missile, and a new command and control system,” Burns writes, adding, “The total bill is expected to approach $1.2 trillion.”
Counterpoint: "New ICBMs are both unnecessary and dangerous," William Hartung of the Center for International Policy says, adding, "[T]he process through which the new missiles are being developed — a 'sole source' contract without competition — is suspect, if not outright corrupt."
The U.S. seized four tankers of alleged Iranian gas headed for Venezuela back in August. That gasoline is about to arrive in Texas, Reuters reported Tuesday. The New York Times at the time called the episode a “diplomatic double-header” that didn’t involve the U.S. military in a high-seas intercept of four tankers — the Bella, the Bering, the Pandi and the Luna.
“These actions represent the government’s largest-ever seizure of fuel shipments from Iran,” the Department of Justice said in its August 14 statement. The haul added up to approximately 1.116 million barrels of petroleum, according to DOJ.
The latest update: “The first fuel cargo on Liberia-flagged tanker Euroforce is expected to arrive in Texas in the coming 24 hours," an unnamed source told Reuters Tuesday. Shipping data firm Refinitiv Eikon shows the tanker’s location as Galveston, Texas. “The second cargo, on Singapore-flagged tanker Maersk Progress, is expected to arrive on Sep 19 to Houston,” Reuters writes. More here.
Lastly: About a week after Amazon won FAA approval for drone deliveries, Walmart says it’s getting in on the action. And the first tests are happening today with the delivery firm Flytrex just outside of Fort Bragg, N.C., Reuters reports.
One big accelerant: The ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “as virus-wary consumers increasingly prefer having items delivered at their doorsteps,” Reuters writes. Tiny bit more, here.
By the way: UPS Flight Forward and Alphabet’s Wing Aviation subsidiary have also won FAA approval for drone deliveries.
But curb your enthusiasm, WIRED reported last week, cautioning, “your next Prime order or burrito by drone is likely years off.” That’s because “The [U.S.] government needs to write rules. The companies need to find business models. And no one even knows if anyone wants their burritos by drone.” More here.
One more thing: The FAA just awarded more than $7 million in university research grants for work on UAV systems. That work includes investigating “Tracking, Mapping, and Analysis” possibilities, which include intensifying interest in better coordination inside air traffic control towers.
We’ll be diving into emerging issues in unmanned technology in an upcoming episode of Defense One Radio. Subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.